ANKENY, Iowa — A teenage father is charged with neglect in connection with the death of a 4-month-old boy after the infant was taken from a lesbian couple who were just days away from finalizing his adoption.
Heidi and Rachel McFarland took Gabriel King McFarland home from the hospital in the first step in what they hoped would be a smooth adoption process, but were later forced to return Gabriel to his 16-year-old birth mother when she changed her mind about giving up the child just days before signing the final adoption papers.
But on Tuesday evening, the infant’s father, 17-year-old Drew James Wheeler-Smith, was to care for the child while his mother ran an errand. Less than an hour later, Gabriel’s birth mother returned to find the baby unresponsive in his glider chair, and with white foam around his mouth.
On Wednesday, the McFarlands were watching the news on TV when they learned Gabriel had died, reported the Des Moines Register.
“It’s like he’s been taken away from you again,” Rachel McFarland said.
The couple has been together for 18 years and married for five. They looked forward after Gabriel’s adoption to having a thriving family. “We brought him home from the hospital,” Rachel McFarland said. “I cut his umbilical cord.”
After that, she said, she spent every waking moment with him until he returned to his birth mother.
“It took about 30 seconds to fall in love with him,” the McFarland family said in a statement. “Heidi and Rachel were the perfect parents and any love, happiness and security that Gabe had in his short life was given by them. They would have treasured him forever.”
Under Iowa law, a birth mother has three months, plus a 31-day probationary period, to change her mind about adoption.
Wheeler-Smith could face more charges pending the outcome of the child’s autopsy.